Festering Passions

Festerblight.
On the off chance you haven’t heard of it by this point- to the surprise of roughly everyone- it can best be defined as a fringe Unholy playstyle (not unlike Masterfrost or Diseaseless Blood) that utilizes our diseases’ ability to snapshot stats to dramatically increase our damage. It became a very prominent playstyle throughout 5.2 due to the addition of the trinket Fabled Feather of Ji-kun, which in many cases is capable of nearly doubling the user’s Strength score for a brief (2 second) period.

With the advent of 5.3, Festerblight has received a great deal of attention from players and devs alike. The devs are not strongly against it, but are afraid that it will become the mandatory playstyle of the spec and considered, for a good bit of the PTR, the possibility of giving Unholy the nerf bat. Some players who feared said bat affecting the standard playstyle have offered up some suggestions that would completely obliterate Festerblight in sacrifice to our crustacean overlords, such as having our diseases scale dynamically or having Festering Strike re-roll them when cast a la Crimson Scourge (nevermind that it would be more cost effective to just spam Plague Strike if that were the case).

Why though?
No, really, I’m legitimately asking because I’m as confused as you are. Why chase it away?

Festering Passions or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Festerblight

In my last post (dating back three months… sorry), I made an analysis of Unholy’s place in the world of DoT-based classes. I concluded that in the grand scheme of things beyond other death knights, Unholy has dropped to a fairly low point in this department, having minimal direct interaction with its ever-depleting number of diseases, and little in the way of increasing or exploiting their damage, being in desperate need of some spice.
I didn’t give nearly enough credit to Festering Strike, and for the past three months I’ve been happy to be humbled by it.

In spite of having very little else going for its diseases, Unholy is entirely unique in the realm of DoT-based classes due to this attack. Sure, any other class can re-apply their DoTs, and druids and warlocks can even extend their durations a little bit- but only up to a cap. Unholy, however, is the only specialization in the game that can roll DoTs with singular damage values throughout a whole 3 to 10 minute long boss encounter. This is our gimmick and I, for one, am very pleased to have it- in spite of taking two expansions, two content patches and a high-powered trinket to fully appreciate it. Were one to take this away, it might mean nothing to the standard Frost or Blood DK- heck, it might not even mean anything to a standard Unholy DK- but it would take away the only individuality our DoTs have in order to create a bland passive ability with the redundant functionality of our pets.

Many players have written off Festerblight by saying that it’s “not a play style”, and reapplying diseases with a proc is “just a no-brainer DPS boost we’ve done since the beginning”. The fact is though, effectively playing Festerblight creates a mark of skill for players, as “pure” Festerblight is a misnomer: You have to keep in mind not just how you apply your diseases or when you time the application itself, but predict how long to extend the diseases and weigh how much DPS you should sacrifice now (be it from tossing in or forfeiting a Scourge Strike or two) to get to a strong point later- and not just get lucky with procs- all to synchronize the final ticks with the target’s death and create a true playstyle of its own. While 5.2 has taken its turns towards taming the unnecessary complications in the Unholy playstyle, those players who prefer the spec remain less brain-dead than Frost largely involved can weigh these odds, put in some risk and gamble for a fairly decent reward. As long as this reward is kept in check, it doesn’t need to be discouraged at all.

Further, Festerblight’s playstyle is actually a rather practical setup, especially given the quirky combination of runes that Unholy uses. Consider for a moment that because of our lack of access to Unholy rune-based AoE, our multi-target rotation is primarily dependent on two things: diseases, and access to Death runes. By raising the quantity of Festering Strikes in our single-target rotation, a sudden phase or mechanics change means a practical guarantee of Death runes with which to Pestilence or Blood Boil (though ironically, playing Festerblight doesn’t make the diseases themselves stronger in AoE, nor does it make them last any longer…), thereby allowing for a smooth transition from single-target to AoE and back. Seen in action, it’s almost like this setup was what Blizzard intended our AoE to be like.

Either way you cut it, Festerblight isn’t a playstyle to crush under one’s heel; it should be nurtured and used as a unit of measurement (both in skill and development) for the spec as a whole, because as much focus on DoTs as Unholy’s passives give it, this playstyle is the most interaction with our diseases that any DK has had since Wrath of the Lich King. As it stands, once Fabled Feather becomes outdated, the fate of Festerblight is uncertain- but its death would waste a whole level of disease interaction.

This isn’t to say Festerblight is without its drawbacks- it amplifies many of Unholy’s weaknesses (such as the emphasis on single-target damage) in playing toward its strengths.
In the vein of AoE in particular, it can be difficult to get away from the target that your main diseases are on unless you used Unholy Blight in the initial application process. Consider a fight like Tortos, where the bats are likely to be tanked towards an opposing edge of the room; a single Pestilence may not reach the adds due to their distance from his core, but at the same time, running out to fire a Pestilence or Unholy Blight into the crowd can mean re-applying the diseases on the boss due to their distance from his hit box– and unlike Feral druids, we have nothing to prevent us from overwriting our DoTs with weaker versions. In essence, it creates a dead zone for disease application not unlike the one hunters used to be familiar with, which is mitigated ever so slightly by our ability to just hit everything with individual Plague Strikes.
The best fixes to this that I can think of would be to just clone Feral’s overwrite-limiter (which would probably never happen due to that being their unique facet), or return Pestilence to the old way of spreading diseases from their values on the target (which would probably never happen because it worked so well in Wrath, didn’t it). However, I did hear an interesting proposal recently from one of the members of #Acherus (and I’m sorry I don’t remember who as I’m writing this) that perhaps a glyph could be added so Pestilence won’t overwrite diseases on a target whose disease timers are above a certain duration- say, the base 30 seconds- at the time of re-application. Any one of these suggestions would make options like Roiling Blood more appealing to Unholy insofar as allowing us to be selective in our favor of DoT application in multi-target scenarios, while adding a layer of complexity to existing options like Unholy Blight, and addressing AoE scenarios such as the one mentioned above.

Yes, the problem here is that Festerblight caused me to care that much about my diseases. File this under First World [of Warcraft] Problems, I suppose.

Now, I won’t say I’d just be satisfied with Festering Strike alone forever, mind you; it may be all that makes us unique from other DoT classes, but I stick to my original conclusion that our disease interaction is fairly lacking. I’d still kill to have some derivative of Wandering Plague back (and believe me, those massacres in Pandaland have proved that claim) or some other exploration into this field. That said, as long as we care about what percentage of our damage is gained from diseases, Festering Strike and any lovin’ it generates can (and should) stay just the way it is. The flaw isn’t Festering Strike, nor that Festerblight throws off Unholy’s balance- it’s that the playstyle was the unexpected result of trinket exploitation rather than a built-in facet of the specialization.

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